1. Ethnic Minorities in Mexico
The end of a dream
Mexico woke up from a dream on January
the 1st this year. A country that was about to become a member of the so-called 'First World' was forced to acknowledge, and
remember, its 'Third
reality, a reality from which some mexicans had averted their eyes. On the
opening day of the Free Trade Agreement signed with the US and Canada exploited indigenous people of Chiapas were declaring war to the
mexican government. The modern, democratic, middle-class society Mexico's rulers and friends in Washington want it to be was still
Who are them?
Indigenous population ranges
between 20 and 30 Millions in Latin America. Only in Mexico they they account for 20% of
Indigenous population live
predominantly in isolated forest areas far from urban centres. It is very
common that they do not have lands and so they find it diffciult to receive
Indigenous population in Latin America have been highly influenced by
the predominant culture. Nevertheless, they keep their own ethnic identity, try
alternatively forms of organization and own political representation., keep
certain essential features of their original culture which have survived for
almost four centuries.
They speak their own languages,
respect dialect forms, practice some religious rituals, they interpret a cosmovision opposed to western values and
keep certain norms of life and autochthonous behaviours. Briefly they express
and live own cultural expressions.
The previous context
The Chiapas rebellion was the most
announced rebellion in Mexican history. It was a surprise only for those who
think that economic development is only a matter of economic growth but not one
of culture, national project, and belonging to a society which grants identity,
dignity and ethical values. The rebellion, even if takes up the ideals of the
mexican revolution, it points towards the struggle for democracy in a country
where nowadays democracy is more than ever at stake.
Indeed the problem in Chiapas is one of poverty and
oppression but it focuses rather on inequity and the loss of a way of life, of
a way of survival.
a) The Mexican Revolution ideals
-the first social revolution of this century- did not succeed in Chiapas. This has led to a culture
of exclusion. It has been a constant practice of discrimination, physical
abuse and insult towards the indigenous population. Rosario Castellanos talks
about the right of the rich owners to rape indigenous young girls. No wonder
the rebellion claims dignity, respect and recognition.
b) Migration coming from Guatemala and other South American
c) It is very likely that an
external group helped them to organize.
d) The indigenous population are
the poorest among the poor. Poverty has become unbearable in a region where
social and economic progress never shows as in other parts of the country. When
everything has been tried, as they clearly declared, there was no option than a
e) There is illiteracy, lack of
public services (water, drainage, electricity). Schools are in a very bad
condition. Statistics and census usually do not show particular data from the
indigenous population. However, some figures show that 82% of the indigenous
population of Guatemala is illiterate. Usually
educational figures in terms of illiteracy, achievement rates, drop-outs are
higher among indigenous population than among non-indigenous population. What
happens in Mexico?
f) Ethnic groups do not have any
alternatives or perspectives for social, economic or educational participation.
Youngsters lack any perspectives in life not any chances to survive in extreme
g) Indigenous groups all over,
those in Chiapas are not the exception, are
looking for autonomy. Cultural existence becomes subordinated to the existence
of autonomy. What indigenous groups in Chiapas are demanding is the right to
h) The political rights of
ethnic groups and the respect for their vote have been continuously violated.
People are usually forced to vote for the official party.
i) Socioeconomic and political
demands have been ignored.
j) Local authorities are forced
k) Grass-roots organizations
have been blocked.
l) Land has been taken away from
m) There has been a continuous
violation of human rights
n) The demand for land to work
seldom is given an answer and land is too expensive to buy. When the land is
taken away from indigenous groups they feel as strangers in their own land,
where land is an essential part of the culture. People are loosing an
agricultural and agrarian way of life. What comes to be at stake is the
survival of indigenous groups -agricultural and indigenous groups- within a global
capitalist system. Along the years the government has given more importance to
urban-industrial development than to rural development.
o) They have no political
"Mexico is a country that has a
dependency at regional, municipal, and community level. When the marginal
social groups become conscious and organized then there is a rupture within
this dependency. The State does not allow this fracture because it would break
its hegemonic project, this is why it focuses on social control to keep people
without conscience and organization, through socioeconomic, political and
ideological control" (Samuel Ruiz).
problems among the indigenous population occur in other states
Indigenous groups in the north of México living in a very important forest area
do not get their share but are threatened and are victims of small groups who
have decided their fate for the last 30 years.
Similarly, in other state, people's lack of knowledge about commercialization
and the wood production know-how made wood companies the owners of this
In Tabasco, the benefits of being the
State which produces a great amount of oil have not reached the small
communities. 61% of the indigenous groups living in this region are unemployed
and the remaining 31% works in the primary sector. 89 out of 1200 localities
have drainage services. Less than 50% of these localities have water in their
In Michoacan, another state with significant indigenous population 75% of the
localities do not have water, drain, streets, and health services. In some
parts 50% of children die before they are 12 years old.
Some places in Yucatan show worst welfare figures than Haiti.
In Oaxaca four ethnic groups are about to
become extinct due to living conditions, illness and migration.
99.1% of the budget of the municipality of San Cristobal de las Casas was spent on
infrastructure for this indigenous centre-colonial-touristic city in Chiapas. The remaining .9% was
channelled to the communities belonging to this municipality. The indigenous
groups do not have a voice and live in a painful silent, sometimes in despair.
conditions in education. The impact of formal schooling
usually do not differ when addressed to indigenous population, besides spanish
is taken as the official language. The fact that teachers do not know the
language and culture of the indigenous context turns them automatically in
cultural agents and devalue the indigenous world.
face of rather poor learning conditions -multigrade classrooms,
non-communication between teacher and student because of different linguistic
codes- there tends to be a vertical and authoritarian pedagogic style which
fosters individual work as opposed to group work tradition in the communities.
and youngsters either tend to identify themselves with the predominant culture
or feel rejected and discriminated because they belong to a indigenous group.
They either reaffirm themselves or deny themselves. Then comes a process of
deterioration of selfvaluation. There is a struggle between legal society and
spanish is taken as the official language in indigenous contexts dominant
behaviours and codes are being valued positively by the school. This tends to
isolate indigenous population from their own culture and link them with
non-indigenous western values.
as it is carried out in rural indigenous communities will help perpetuate
inter-ethnic conflicts leading either to unconditional cultural assimilation or
to irrational resistance. Both processes do not guarantee a long-term equal and
Day by day a reorientation of ethnic conscience is
taking place among indigenous groups as a political demand which points towards
the need to have a greater social participation. The move is towards ethnic
reaffirmation, to value their ethnic conditions and to spread the traits that
constitute their own cultural personality.